I recently returned from Kingston, Jamaica where a small group of young adults and I went to serve alongside the Missionaries of the Poor (M.O.P.). It was my second time traveling there to serve the poorest of the poor in Jamaica. The first time was life-changing. Could this second trip really compare? In the midst of tragic poverty, Christ revealed to me a treasure that “neither moth nor rust destroys” and that “thieves do not break in or steal” (Mt 6:20).
“My name is Wayne. No, Wayne!” Spelling it out for me: W – A – Y – N – E, he sighed with relief that I had finally understood.” “Wayne? Ok, got it,” I replied, feeling I had accomplished something. He sat in a wheelchair and with very few teeth, smiled brightly at me. Wayne had a slight mental disability, but that didn’t stop him from leading the rosary with his thick Jamaican accent for the other 80 residents living at Good Shepard, one of the many homes founded and run by the M.O.P. brothers in Kingston.
I approached him after the rosary to thank and congratulate him because he had begun one of the five “decades” with an intention to pray for “those who were volunteering,” which included myself. He smiled and proudly explained, “Oh, I’m the preacher around here.” “So you like to preach,” I asked. “Do you have a Bible?” Wayne answered with a “no.” “The brothers do the reading. I just do the preaching!” “Oh, that’s great! And do you have a favorite passage?” I asked. “Yes I do,” he responded immediately. “Jesus wept”.
Surprised by his quick response, I asked him to explain. He again replied without hesitation, saying, “Because it’s the shortest one!” He began to laugh. I smiled back. I accepted his answer, but felt I should inquire further. “Oh really? You like it because it’s short? Is that the only reason why?” He looked at me with the innocence of a child, and with a smile, broke the silence. “No. I like that passage because it shows how Jesus understands what we are going through here. He knows our difficulties, our struggles, and he loves us. He knows us.” At that moment, we were interrupted by a clap, indicating that the next activity was about to begin.
Wayne rolled away in his wheelchair towards a small circle of his friends who began to joke around with him. I stood there stunned by his simple, yet profound grasp of the Gospel. I had spent that whole morning sweeping and mopping a floor covered in filth. The bunk beds spread throughout the large space were rusty with old, putrid mattresses. Meanwhile, a mentally-troubled man screamed, filling the place with anguished cries. Some men were bed-ridden, others had heavy autism or Down syndrome, while others lived there desperately seeking refuge from the harsh conditions of the ghetto. How could someone living in these conditions find so much consolation in the “shortest phrase” of the Bible? Wondering, I looked around the building at the many residents plagued by illness and disabilities. It is natural to perceive only the suffering when one enters such a place. But Wayne reminded me of something precious, hidden beneath the dirt and the cries: in all circumstances and suffering, there is reason to smile and laugh, because Jesus is there. He knows us and loves us. And I believe that Jesus wept again that day, as he heard Wayne profess his profound, and child-like faith (Mt 18: 3). But this time, they were tears of joy.